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Fiduciary Sudoku Part 3 – Comprehending ERISA 3(21), Explaining the 3(21) Fiduciary

Welcome to our third article in our fiduciary blog series, designed to clear up confusion and offer clarification regarding the nature and scope of fiduciary roles as they relate to corporate retirement plan management. In our most recent blog post we provided an overview of an ERISA 3(16) fiduciary. Today we’ll discuss the 3(21) fiduciary.

Keep in mind that the term “3(21)” in the retirement plan space has become associated with a financial advisor who helps the plan sponsor select and monitor its plan fund line up. But technically ERISA Section 3(21) defines ALL plan fiduciaries, not just those who provide outside investment advice.

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Fiduciary Sudoku Part 2– Comprehending ERISA 3(16), Explaining the 3(16) Fiduciary

In this second blog in our Fiduciary Sudoku series, our goal is to help you, the employer, understand ERISA Section 3(16) well enough so that you can properly evaluate, hire and monitor retirement plan vendors who offer “3(16)” services. As discussed in our Introduction, “Fiduciary Sudoku – Comprehending ERISA 3(16), 3(21) & 3(38),” vendors who service retirement plans will use the term “3(16)” to describe their service offering. But what is a 3(16) service? Will it make your life easier? Does it alleviate your fiduciary responsibility? Are there levels of 3(16) service?

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Fiduciary Sudoku – Comprehending ERISA 3(16), 3(21) & 3(38)

As an employer, you may have heard the terms fiduciary and fiduciary support in relation to corporate retirement plans. Specifically, vendors who service retirement plans will use the terms 3(16), 3(21) and 3(38) to describe their service offering. The terms have often been taken for granted, and sometimes abused by service providers looking for a marketing edge. Regardless, as a plan sponsor you have a responsibility to understand exactly what level of service your plan participants are receiving from your plan’s providers. In this mini-series we hope to offer some clarification and understanding regarding the terms 3(16), 3(21) and 3(38).

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Best Practice #10: Utilize Technology

Welcome to the Alliant Best Practices Series for 401(k) Plan Sponsors, in which we offer 10 best-practice essentials for helping plan participants achieve retirement plan success. Here’s the tenth and final best practice in our series.


In our last post we talked about safe harbors options. In this post we’ll talk about how we are utilizing cutting-edge technology to the advantage of plan sponsors and participants. When used right, technology brings companies greater organization and efficiency. Here are a few key examples.

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Best Practice #9: Adopting Available "Trust" Safe Harbors

Welcome to the Alliant Best Practices Series for 401(k) Plan Sponsors, in which we offer 10 best-practice essentials for helping plan participants achieve retirement plan success. Here’s the ninth best practice in our series.


Our last post focused on the importance of adopting a fiduciary government program. In this post we’ll talk about ERISA “Trust” safe harbors. Trust safe harbors, unlike the commonly referred to “safe harbor plan” which helps the plan pass administrative testing requirements, are an effective method to mitigate or reduce the potential liability plan sponsors face as Trustees of their plan as they manage plan investments.

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Best Practice #8: Adopting a Fiduciary Governance Program

Welcome to the Alliant Best Practices Series for 401(k) Plan Sponsors, in which we offer 10 best-practice essentials for helping plan participants achieve retirement plan success. Here’s the eighth best practice in our series.


“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

- Benjamin Franklin

In our last post we discussed the importance of establishing a regular fee comparison and review process to protect employers and plan participants from overcharging by service providers, and to preventatively ward off Department of Labor (DOL) investigations or fines, as well as potential lawsuits by employees.

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Best Practice #7: Establishing a Regular Fee Comparison and Review Process

Welcome to the Alliant Best Practices Series for 401(k) Plan Sponsors, in which we offer 10 best-practice essentials for helping plan participants achieve retirement plan success. Here’s the seventh best practice in our series.


“This witch's brew of hidden fees, conflicts of interest and complexity in applications is at odds with investors' best interests.”

- SEC Chairman Christopher Cox

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Whose Relationship Do You Value?

When you choose to add a 401(k) plan to your employee benefits package you offer your employees the opportunity to improve the quality of the lives of their families in retirement. In other words, you do a good thing. However, 401(k) plans come with an obligation. When you adopt a 401(k) plan you become responsible for your employee’s retirement funds. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, places responsibility on the employer to manage the plan at an extremely high level.

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